This is a three-part series, learning life lessons through Elijah’s life, allowing this week between Christmas and New Year’s to be a time of savoring and reflection, and a time of preparation for what is to come.
Elijah’s story can show us how.
- Elijah’s Training by God in 1 Kings 17
- Elijah’s Triumph at Carmel in 1 Kings 18
- Elijah’s Trust in God Tested in 1 Kings 19
Elijah’s Triumph at Carmel 1 Kings 18
In God’s perfect timing, Ahab was getting worried about his cavalry of 2,000 chariots.
The famine was severe in Samaria . . . Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.”King Ahab to his servant, 1 Kings 18:5 (NRSV)
Along the way, Elijah met with Obadiah and sent a message to King Ahab through this servant: Come and meet me.
Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought, calling him “trouble bringer,” a phrase that signified a crime worthy of death by stoning.
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” [Elijah] answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Ba’als.
Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Ba’al and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”Ahab and Elijah, 1 Kings 18:17-19
Elijah proposed a contest between God and Ba’al, something in the spirit of the contest God entered into with gods of Egypt, in Israel’s ancient past.
- Both God and Ba’al were said to ride the thunderstorm as their divine chariot (Psalm 104).
- People thought thunder was their voice (Psalm 29)
- It was said lightning their weapon (Psalm 18).
Ahab agreed, they would meet on Mount Carmel and either the mighty Jehovah or Ba’al would to be proven to be the One True God.
A place of surpassing beauty, the effects of the drought would have been felt the least on Mount Carmel, as it jutted out into the Mediterranean Sea for 13 miles. It was debated ground, between Phoenicia (the combination of Tyre and Sidon) and Israel, so literally a fork in the road, and this was also thought to be Ba’al’s holy mountain.
Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Ba’al, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word.Elijah, 1 Kings 18:21 (NRSV)
Carmel symbolized syncretism, in that both God and Ba’al could be worshiped. Elijah placed a clear choice before the people: The word “limp” means “dance” in Hebrew: the fork in the road went in two directions, yet the Israelites were dancing with one foot on one road and the other foot on the other road, back and forth, never going anywhere, just wearing themselves out with futile religious dancing.
This is a powerful story of unfaltering faith in what is right and good, even though no one else will support that.
Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Ba’al’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it;
I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.”
All the people answered, “Well spoken!”Elijah and the people, 1 Kings 18:22
Elijah allowed most of the day to go to Ba’al. All day, Ba’al’s priests cut themselves in symbolic sacrifice, so their blood would pour onto the altar, a kind of mutilation that was strictly forbidden in God’s law. They exhausted themselves in prophesying ever more frantically with ecstatic raving.
At the Evening Sacrifice in Jerusalem: Then, at the time when in Jerusalem the priests would make the evening sacrifice, Elijah prepared God’s altar.
Twelve Stones for Twelve Tribes: Elijah set up twelve stones, calling attention to the covenantal unity of Israel as the people of God in spite of the political division. What was about to happen concerned all of God’s people, the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah.
Cleansing and Sacrifice in Living Water: Elijah poured out gallons of water as a symbol for cleansing. He also made it humanly impossible for anyone to start a fire. Significantly, during a severe drought, water was an extremely precious commodity, literally a matter of life and death. This was an extravagant gift of faith, poured out in trusting sacrifice to God.
Consider the simple beauty of Elijah’s prayer when compared to the hours and hours of frenzied shrieking from Ba’al’s priests and worshipers,
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”Elijah’s Prayer, 1 Kings 18:36-37 (NRSV)
Fire came down and consumed everything including the stones of the altar, the water, and even the dirt.
When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”The people, 1 Kings 18:40 (NRSV)
And, reminiscent of the severe judgment of Moses when the people had worshiped the golden calf, Elijah had all the prophets of Ba’al put to death, purging evil from people.
God came through with resounding victory over Ba’al, and Elijah’s faith, courage, and strength truly were unwavering. In matters of faith there is no middle ground. To waver or delay is to choose not to belong to God, both for the new believer, and for the seasoned saint.
Possibly there is something you are wavering on right now, you are at a fork in the road, and you can feel the tug of both paths. Maybe God has something for you in this story.
Because the drought in the land had been a picture of spiritual drought.
Rain is a picture or a symbol of blessing. God often withheld physical rain from the people so they would understand that the drought was really a drought of God’s blessing, caused by their sin. The appointed time had now ended, and God was going to give rain, give blessing, but God still required Israel to pray in order to experience the fulfillment of God’s promise.
God conditions us in prayer to understand and appreciate the fulfillment of God’s blessing.
So, even as the last person left, Elijah stayed up on Mount Carmel to pray earnestly, fervently, to God for God’s promised rain.
In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.1 Kings 18:45-46 (NRSV)
The pattern reemerges: Victory on Mount Carmel, great spiritual work, then a time of prayer and God’s powerful response.
[Contest on Mount Carmel | By Pablo Pernicharo, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons]